What a difference a year can make

Reflecting back this time last year I was depressed, absolutely miserable and fighting many insecurities, internal conflicts and struggling at work. I hated my supervisor and English co-teacher. She was overworking me and still does to this day and even though she was ‘nice’, she could be cruel. My students don’t like her and I’m not quite sure why. When I wanted to go to my elementary school graduation, she refused because she needed me at junior high school to do 3 normal lessons. It was frustrating and useless as I wasn’t even doing anything important in those lessons. My students were teaching me a game and playing the piano with me and she said they could no longer teach me anymore. She said the other students couldn’t play piano during lunchtime, but we already asked and were granted permission from the music teacher. So in my mind at those times, she was a cruel, jealous and horrible woman. She wasn’t nice or even a good teacher in my thoughts.

Likewise, I hated my 2nd grade students and resented my 1st grade students at Junior high school last year. My 1st grade students were so shy they didn’t want to speak English with me. My 2nd grade students were so mean, they laughed at me, one girl ignored me and turned her back to me when I was talking to her. They were rude. In January, one boy said at lunch during one of my lowest points when I was trying to speak to them that he doesn’t speak English. He hates English and no-one understands. I sat there in silence not daring to speak after that, in such a foul and angry mood wondering what the hell I was doing wasting my time on some useless children who didn’t even want my help nor my teaching. Not that anything would help since their English was beyond despair, since their level was so low and they weren’t even motivated to try. After I finished eating I immediately stood up abruptly and without saying goodbye walked away. I think I shocked them. I almost gave up that day. I almost gave up a few months later after the earthquake.

One year later. 

I am happy. That same boy who told me he didn’t want to speak English began speaking English with me. He taught me a Japanese game and tried to use English to explain. He was patient and kind. That rude attitude and that distrust, suspicion and dislike melted away though I’m not sure when. He still dislikes English, but now he at least tries and has promised to do his best. He’s in 3rd year and has now graduated. I was so sad to see him and the fellow 3rd years go. I fell in love with my students (platonic off course).

I almost gave up on them, but somehow I kept eating lunch with them and I kept speaking English to them. They didn’t like it off course but eventually they opened up, eventually we started to joke and laugh. Those mean 3rd graders became kind and friendly. I don’t know why. The girl who rudely ignored me while I tried to speak to her when she turned her back to me, I was so shocked. six months later she began to thaw. She wouldn’t cover or hide her work anymore, she let me look and check. She didn’t ignore me but would say hi. When I spoke to her, she would try to speak English. She had such a strange personality transplant I wondered what happened. In all these incidents I have no idea why they changed. Maybe they got used to me. It’s hard to replace your predecessor who was so loved by them. It’s hard to fill big shoes, but I managed to change my attitude and they changed theirs. And somehow we improved and they became my favourite classes.They were still naughty sometimes, but more cheeky than bad. They certainly improved a little bit – mainly their speaking and conversational skills.

I don’t hate my teacher anymore. I just accept her, though she still pisses me off from time to time, I no longer care. She is not significant. She is just part of the job and will be leaving in two days.

During graduation, my favourite student when giving me a present told me that he was very glad he met me. He truly had fun in my classes and one day he wants to speak English with me as an adult. Earlier when I met his mother, she told me that he always spoke about me and how kind I was, how he enjoys my classes and wants to do well in English. Truly he was the kind one. He also was enthusiastic about my ideas and games, getting other students involved. He always spoke to me and asked my questions, not letting the conversation die. He always tried even though his level was very low. He always did his best speaking. I was very proud. I managed to inspire one kid out of 44. Only one, but it makes a world of difference to me because I was extremely happy to know I had succeeded with one. He wants to go to America one day. It’s not England but it is abroad at least. It’s not just about Japan. I changed that view.

My 1st years who were very shy have also improved and opened up. They are still quite shy but they are very kind and always have been. They try to speak English and even when I ask questions in Japanese, they reply in English.

I can’t believe the transformations. I have met some wonderful and lovely children. I am so very happy now. I am also sad because my students are leaving and graduating. I am sad because soon I will be leaving and the harsh truth has hit me. I’ll never see them again. But I’ll always love them. I am so so glad I stayed. I am so glad I stuck it out and never gave up because in the end, the benefits reaped were far greater than the losses I’ve experienced here. I am stronger emotionally, internally and as a person. I am more confident.

What a world of difference a year makes. I don’t know what changed and why. I only know that I am now happy.

 

Staying true to yourself always

In life we go though many changes and we make many, different choices. These choices define the paths we take and right now my path has led to Japan. I have been living in Japan for five months now and I still can’t believe it, that I am actually here. I am so very lucky and I know it, but I am very grateful to God, to my family and to the universe. I don’t know how long my luck will last since nothing in this life is continuous and we are always in a state of flux as Heraclitus says. He presents an epigram of a flowing river. “We both step and do not step in the same rivers. We are and are not.” (B49a). “You cannot step twice into the same rivers.” Because you will not be the same the second time you step into the river. Without knowing it, you have changed. Plato quotes in Cratylus, 402a  “Everything changes and nothing stands still.” This is so very true and this theme is central to the point I am making today.

I am enjoying my experience in Japan, however I have come across some interesting people in the same situation as myself and part of the same programme. Some are selfish, naive, narcissistic people and others are friendly and open. Don’t you find it so very hard finding true friends? People who will respect and like you for yourself? I do. Especially in another country where English is rarely spoken except among others in the same situation as yourself. I find myself running from them, eager to escape their dull and unpleasant company. I have been taken advantage of, used, hurt and talked at. I have laughed to cover the hurt and I have ignored the truth, but I cannot continue to live my life like this anymore. If I can’t stand up to small injustices, then how could I ever stand up to other big injustices in the world? If I can’t be true to myself, how can I ever be true to others? Why must I hide behind a happy mask when I am filled with hated for those who have wronged me, but I have not let it be known that they’ve hurt me. It is weakness to degrade myself and acede to the requests of others. It is weakness to cower away and ignore the situation instead remaining silent.

So now this is my truth.

The special few people in my life have given me strength, my family, my best friend and my close circle in England – a total of 6 people including the 3 in my family. I don’t have many true friends but the ones I do have inspire me to stay true to myself. Out here away from them, I can’t ignore things anymore. The distance is the reason why I am lost and conflicted because I am alone and I have no-one to fight for me except myself. I must face these battles alone which is the way it should be. I don’t know how to deal with people who I hate and whom I am stuck with but this hatred is consuming me and occupying too many of my thoughts. Honestly I hate them so much, but I don’t want to hate because it is a waste of energy. So how do I proceed? All I know is that I can’t continue to hate. I can’t otherwise it will control me and fill me with bitterness and hatred for myself and others. So do I tell them and hurt them in the process of being true to myself or do I leave it and distance myself, but still be kind and in a way fake and pretentious? The type of person I hate myself.

I have to be diplomatic, so I won’t mention it unless it is brought up, but I won’t go out of my way to hang out with them or speak to them. It seems harsh and it probably is, but it’s the only way I can think of in this particular situation. If they cross me and try to take advantage I will tell them there and then when they are being rude or out of order. I will not allow anyone to push me again. Instead of laughing it off to disguise the hurt and shock, I will say: “Don’t push me, who do you think you are? It is not okay to push me. I don’t care if it was even in a friendly way, I was talking to someone and that was rude. If you want my attention tap my shoulder.” – “What are you doing? Don’t touch me. That is wrong. I never said it was okay to touch me like that.” – “Don’t you ever think about anyone else? What you are worried about is inconsequential to what is going on in the world. Your problems are nothing to those who have nothing. So before you complain, think about all those people who are suffering, who are jobless and abandoned. I’m not trying to lecture you, but I just want you for one second to think about those who have nothing before you say your life and your situation here is shit. You are lucky and you don’t even see it. But I don’t care about your problems and I can’t help you if you wish to remain blind. There far more important things to worry about.”

One day I will have the courage and the voice and although many people will try to take that away from me, I must never ever be silenced. I must not hide behind my mask anymore. Next time, I must stand up for myself, because no-one deserves to be disrespected or glossed over. I am growing and I am learning. I am trying to find my voice and my courage so that next time I will speak up.